Baseball has taken a hit to its reputation recently with “bad guys” using PEDs and steroids. One of the bad boys in the 90’s who has been free of scandal, at least from banned substances, is Albert Belle. For some reason, I took a liking to Belle back when he was with the Indians. He was on a dominant Cleveland team that also included Roberto Alomar, Omar Vizquel, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome.
Albert Belle was not much of a fan favorite. He had an attitude and didn’t care what anybody thought of him. He also had a stance that stood out, with his arms making a circle in front of his body and a little up and down motion before his swing. This swing led to 381 career home runs, 50 of which came in 1995 and was good enough to lead the league that season.
1995 was also the year Belle finished 2nd in MVP voting. Cleveland made it all the way to the World Series before losing to Atlanta, but it was Belle’s best season as a professional. After 8 years as an Indian, he played 2 years each in Chicago (White Sox) and Baltimore. Although he was a career .295 hitter, Albert Belle was not much of a Hall of Fame candidate, receiving only 7.7% of votes in 2006.
There were controversies that surrounded Belle, but not because of steroid use. There have been questions as to whether or not he used them, but that pretty much surrounds any player with year to year home numbers like he had. This article on Page 2 of ESPN lists the top 10 least liked players in baseball history. Belle comes in at number 3. His tirades on and off the field left him with few fans and many haters. The fact of the matter though was that the man could hit.
I’m not sure why I liked Albert Belle, but it might have been because he was so good and did it with attitude. This is not to say I am also a fan of Jose Canseco, but some guys just stick out. Belle was one of them. He was a college product of LSU, a fitting place growing up in Louisiana. Being possibly the best hitter on a likable Indians team is the only reason I can think of that someone (me) would say they liked the guy. When the Indians gave away a bobblehead of Belle, the pose was that of him pointing to his bicep. Not many players have the arrogance to do that in a game, nor the privilege of having it immortalized in the form of a bobblehead.
Many coaches and scouts say that character and attitude matter when it comes to recruiting and scouting. Belle obviously did not get the memo. Nor did he care. There are still players today who play with a chip on their shoulder and don’t make friends easily on the field, but few put up numbers like Albert Belle did. He was just as reliable at the plate as he was in getting into an argument, and you would be hard pressed to find a manager who wouldn’t have wanted his bat in the lineup.